Friday, 1 November 2019

Alton Towers

Team: Tash Brudenall, Jess Burkey, Keith Edwards, Jane Sarginson, Claire Vivian.

Now where do cavers go when they aren't caving? I bet that's the question you are all asking yourselves. The answer for us at least is Alton Towers on the wetest day of the year so far! Fast and thrilling rides with the added fun of painful rain hitting you in the face as you zip through the air from 0-100kmph in 2.5 seconds on one ride. We only made the mistake of sitting in the front row in the heavy rain on one ride - and feeling like we'd been through a pressure washer afterwards.

What rain? This is Alton Towers!!! 

The fun had started about 30 minutes after we left Mark and Jess' house. We had factored in queuing a lot at Alton Towers as it was half term, but we had not considered the 4 badly flooded roads we came across on the way to Uttoxeter. Jess drove admirably through the water as the rest of us watched the bow waves dispersing. What a star of a car! Only a couple of little coughs and hiccups from the engine before we got a Wetherspoons breakfast.

All smiles! It really did stop raining.

The closest thing above ground to a Longwood-August trip occured as the rain hammered down on us while we queued for Thir13teen for over an hour. Trench foot set in and we could feel ourselves gradually losing feeling in fingers and toes. To relieve the misery, we went for lunch to take the chill away and dry out a bit.
Jane, Keith and Jess watch the mighty Oblivion

After lunch,  it was like a different day entirely. The sun came out and there was even blue sky. Perfect Autumn roller coaster weather!!

Smiler does its thing (there are 14 loops)

We went to the X-Sector for some of the biggest rides in the park (Smiler and Oblivion). Barely 15 minutes queuing for Smiler for all 5 of us using the single rider queue. Result!! 

Nemesis zooms past the queue. Would you believe it! The ride is 25 years old this year, having opened in 1994.

David Attborough meets Nemesis

As it got dark we got even more excited with the chance to ride all these amazing rides in the dark! We all stayed until the bitter end, leaving the park at 21.30 and having been on every ride there, except the Wicker Man wooden roller coaster, which was closed. Oh well. Guess we'll just have to go back again to try that one!

Trip time: 11 hours of theme park fun.
The team take on the spooks in "Duel"
Even more flooding on the way home. Jess and her awesome car once more came to the rescue and showed those floods who was the boss.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Top trips and “collector pieces”!

Team: Chloe Francis, Duncan Hornby, Stephen Johnson, George Linnane, Sanita Lustika, James Meredith, Paul Meredith, Helen Stewart, Phil Thomas, Claire Vivian, Hwyel Protheroe-Jones

Dates: 18-20th October 2019.

Authors: Chloe Francis, Duncan Hornby & Claire Vivian

Sludge Pit Hole team in a part of Main Rift passage.

On arriving at the MNRC hut we were greeted by the hut warden, David. We were able to obtain a variety of keys which gave us the opportunity to pick and choose our trips. Then for some, it was an obligatory visit to the Hunters Lodge!

A sneaky shot of Chloe and Duncan at the Hunters.

The team at the MNRC.


Three trips ran on Saturday each have their own report:

Charterhouse Cave

Many thanks to Peter Hall, local Mendip caver who was the guide for this trip. Photos by Sanita.

The cave seemed to have two modes - you are going through a narrow-ish bit or you are comfortable to walk, where subjectively it felt like most of the time you spend in the narrow-ish bits of some shape and form. Never the less it was great fun and a well worth trip. Like it says in the cave description, the first proper formation you come across is the Curly Wurly Stal which you can partly see from a hole in the wall of the passage first and once you turn a corner it turns out to be even bigger and nicer looking.

The Curly Wurly Stal.
Our next stop was the Splatter Chamber, where we got to hear about some theories as to why the splatter is there. 

Splatter Chamber.
After some crawling, we came out in the Grotto of the Singing Stal. You don’t tune into it straight away but once everyone had put their lights out, you could hear it ‘sing’. It sounded like a happy squirrel munching on a nut or something. 


Grotto of the Singing Stal. The stal sounded like a squirrel munching on a nut or something.

A fossil as fat as your finger!

Little splatter formation.
Unfortunately, The Narrows ended up being too narrow for one of us so we had to continue as a party of three. Past the Narrows Frozen Cascade and the Blades were the most impressive formations.

The Blades.
As the cave description says Portal Pool sumps from autumn to spring. Though Peter started to water pumping process, we wouldn’t have gotten much time on the other side, so we opted to not go through the Portal Pool. Instead, we had a listen to the strange noises the air-bell was making...

Turn the sound on your computer and watch the video to 
hear the weird gurgling sound the air-bell made.

We then had a quick look at the Timeline passage with the crystal pool cascade and then made our way back at a leisurely pace taking photos of all the pretties.

The Frozen cascade.

The formation opposite Frozen cascade with Peter Hall in the background

Little helictites before we turn around and make our way back.
The Timeline. This was our turnaround point next to the Portal Pool after listening to the airbell which was making deep, industrial factory-like noises. 
On the way back we had a quick stop at the Citadel to look at the Blobs. They were strangely pretty for the fact that there was not much there in terms of shape or size.
The Blobs at the Citadel chamber.
Trip length: 4-5 hours leisurely pace to the Portal Pool.

GB Cave

As this was Hywel's first SWCC trip and first visit to the Mendips we thought we'd treat him to the splendour that is GB. Massive passageway, plenty of formations and a waterfall to climb. What's not to like about that?

Helen, Hywel and Chloe at the entrance.
The rain in Wales the previous week had been tremendous and it had almost been impossible to see through the windscreen at times on the journey over on Friday evening as the rain was torrential. We were expecting GB to have a lot of water and so decided to do the round trip with a couple of short extensions. We thought the duck into Ladder Dig Extensions would be impassable, so didn't bring a ladder. 

Helen, Hywel and Chloe on the Bridge.
But we were wrong. We went to have a look at the waterfall and could see that the water was nowhere near the level we were expecting, it was quite low!

Still enjoying the sights of GB.
We were committed to the round trip now so off we went. We put Hywel at the front of the group for a lot of the trip so he could have a go at exploring the cave for the first time, without just being led. All the group were capable cavers, so it didn't take long to complete the circuit. It was great to have GB to ourselves on an Autumn Saturday afternoon. The only people we saw were a student group we met at the entrance as we exited the cave.

Still smiling!

Hywel climbing towards the end of White Passage.
Chloe enjoying the wet grovel.

Chloe admiring some pretties near the entrance.
The sun was shining brightly when we got out and although we were tempted to go and do a second cave in Burrington (Rod's Pot), the lure of lunch and a walk won out. We went to Blagdon and walked around the fields and lake instead.

Trip time: 2.5 hours

Sludge Pit Hole

For much of my caving career this cave has been closed to cavers. A few years ago a change in land ownership meant the access to this cave was improved and is now accessible if you can obtain a CSCC key.

Whilst not Mendips longest system it is a sporty cave and you can easily pass the time exploring the various routes and bitter ends.

The entrance is tucked away in an overgrown depression in a field just up the road from the Wessex Caving Club.

Entrance to Sludge Pit Hole.
A short scramble leads to the 8m pitch. It has a couple of P-bolts and a convenient ledge, so a nice pitch for beginners or people less experienced in the dark art of going up and down wire ladders.

Stephen about to climb main pitch.

Paul at main 8m pitch near the entrance.
We followed the obvious way on which lead us down the steep main rift, this was some of the larger passages within the cave. It terminates at a sump and a particularly dodgy section of the cave with the roof seemingly propped up with a stack of rotting logs. Eek!

Group resting at the sump at the end of main rift passage.

The roof seemingly held up with a stack of rotting planks, this is a few metres away from the sump.
We then did a variety of routes, initially via Aragonite rift back to the entrance, then back towards the skeleton series via the maze and finally back towards the entrance via the shale series.

Team in Main Rift passage.
It was a lot of fun seeking out the various routes and trying to connect parts of the cave. As the system is quite small there was never the fear of getting totally lost as you would do in the much bigger Welsh systems.

But word from the wise going UP shale passage towards the entrance is quite cramped and arduous, definitely would be much easier going DOWN it!

Trip time: 4 hours

Saturday Night

The mystery of the elusive Ploughboy

We stayed at the MNRC, which happily was in walking distance to a pub: The Ploughboy. We knew the walk was tinged with danger, along a busy main road in total darkness. Taking measures to avoid any pre-pub injuries, we ensured we were suitably equipped with high viz jackets and head torches. Marching in single file along the road felt like being on a weird school trip...heading for the best destination ever! Eventually, after about 20 minutes, we reached the pub. James un-clenched his bum cheeks as we re-grouped in the car park. Ah, safety at last!

Imagine our devastation when we realised the pub was closed. There were no lights on. Nobody was there; the whole place was completely deserted. Horror. Dejectedly, we turned around and trudged back towards the hut. Duncan called the Vic, who reckoned they could just about squeeze our party in. I was now hopeful that my Saturday night dinner would not consist of soggy, half-eaten caving mars bars and instant noodles (must bring better food next time).

On arrival back at the hut (the walk felt longer on the way back without the anticipation of destination pub), we figured out who was going to drive. Helen S volunteered to take people in her very lovely and fairly new VW Golf estate. We eagerly clambered in, our mouths watering at the thought of the delicious food which awaited us. However, due to a flat battery in the car key, Helen’s engine would not start. Everyone exited the vehicle.

Eventually we managed to arrange everyone into cars and off we headed to the pub! Helen made some calls to try and resolve her key situation - the issue was solved the next morning with a trip to Wells to get a new battery. We have a great time at the Vic, with plenty of food, beer and good company.


Taking advantage of the cave keys, two trips ran on the Sunday:

Singing River Mine

Ah, Sunday. The perfect time of the week to relax; tolerate your family; catch up on televised sport - or, in the case of a hardy group of SWCC members - explore a disused mine! The order of the day was Singing River Mine. It’s peak activity was in the 18th and 19th centuries mining calamine: the ore of zinc and lead.

The mine is located in Shipham, in the back garden of a house down Folly Lane. It was a strange experience to open someone’s front gate and walk through their garden in search of underground adventure.
The Dream Team about to descend Singing River - photo: Helen Stewart.
Phil rigged the entrance ladder pitch and one by one we descended. I paid very careful attention as we explored the complicated labyrinth of passages, mindful of being able to find our way back in time for tea and cake. Although we had a copy of the description, none of us had bothered to read it before entering the mine. In hindsight, this would have been very helpful.

Eventually we found the lakes - woohoo! They were wonderfully clear and blue. As nobody fancied getting fully submerged, it was time to turn around. It would be cool to take a raft down next time to sail across.

View of lake.
Trip time - approximately 2 hours.

Attborough Swallet

Yet another collectors piece to tick off, Attborough Swallet is a short drive away from the MNRC hut. Parked in a lay-by, crossed the road and a short walk into a depression to a bright yellow concrete entrance. Can’t get much nearer than that.

This is yet another small cave with no fear of actualy getting lost. Cotham Hall is the largest chamber with a few routes leading off into various tight, wet, gnarly crawls.

Stephen the mole!
Team Meredith at entrance of Attborough Swallet.
Claire was leading the group as we got towards “Twist and Shout”, hesitant to descend a climb Claire crawled out to let me have a look. By virtue of being too large I had to partially descend the climb so I could turn around and get out of the crawl, it was at that point I realised the climb was much easier than it looked so called the others to continue. A few metres on and the tables were turned and I was hesitant to commit to a climb but Claire was small enough to get down it and work out where the foot holds were.Stephen jumped at the chance and quickly disappeared down into Watery Rift which terminated in a flat out crawl in a stream.

We then returned to Cotham Hall and explored Nasty Nasty which was a grim crawl into a wet and muddy tube, most of us bailed out on that! But Claire and James went out to sample more of the misery and reached a climb down that belled out at the bottom before throwing the towel in and going back to meet the others.

We then headed out via a tube connecting Cotham Hall to Happy Mondays. This short cave is a great Sunday trip if you wanted to get away early but still get a bit of caving in.

Paul squeezing out of tube which connected Cotham Hall chamber to Happy Mondays passage.

The rather muddy team at entrance.
This was the trip where we also found monkey, soon christened 'David Attborough', abandoned in the lay-by near the cave.

The now “unofficial” mascot of SWCC?
Trip time 2.5-3 hours

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Northern Lights, Ogof Ffynnon Ddu

A trip to Northern Lights in Ogof Ffynnon Ddu has got to be one of the best caving trips in South Wales. The caving is varied and adventurous with a few navigational issues and just the right degree of challenge, and the reward for those who undertake the trip is to get to see some amazing cave decorations.

Filmed on 6th July 2019.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Adventure Queens Weekend 5th - 6th of October

Last weekend saw the Adventure Queens visit SWCC's HQ for a weekend of underground fun. This blog post contains some trip reports and pictures from the weekend.

Sunday morning group shot. Photo: Claire Vivian

Trip Report - Chloe Francis

Mission objective: to show how fabulous OFD is to the Adventure Queens & improve my navigational skills.

Team: Moi (Chloe F), Claire V, Helen L, Cat and Natalie (Adventure Queens).

We reached the entrance at 11:30am after an excellent amount of faffing. With me as the leader, who knew what lay ahead: would we spend hours doing loops around Big Chamber? Would I accidently catapult the beginners down Edward’s shortcut? There was only one way to find out…

After spending a few minutes with our lights turned off inside the entrance, we headed to Big Chamber Near the Entrance. After the mini traverses, we took a right turn, then another right turn. I made everyone climb in and out of the prisoner pit - then I went down and through to see where it connects to the brickyard.

We came to upper level Arete, and then turned right towards the Wedding Cake. After peering over at Arete, we went to investigate the delicious formation.

Next obstacle was the corkscrew. I gallantly demonstrated how to negotiate going down this - everyone was very impressed. Claire decided that Cat and Natalie could do with a good crawl, so into the hole at the bottom of the corkscrew we popped. Crawly, crawly, crawly sandy crawl. I think everyone was having a lovely time, especially through the very narrow bits.

The crawl ends near Swamp Creek, so we went upstream to look at the pure white formation, then turned back to visit the Judge. Here we spent time admiring this rather impressive formation. Then to the Trident, where Claire regaled the tale of how some eighties cavers knocked the end off and it got glued back on.

At this point we bumped into Bob’s team as they stomped up Salubrious. After exchanging pleasantries with the other team, we turned left towards the crossroads so we could check out Selenite Tunnel and Shatter Pillar. At Presidents Leap, Cat decided that she didn’t like the look of the traverse - so I stayed with her while the others went across. While we waited, I sang songs about love, heartbreak, death and, of course, caving. Luckily the others speedily checked out Selenite, so Cat was not subjected to my full musical repertoire.

We retraced our steps and headed down salubrious - the traversing bits not phasing Cat and Natalie in the slightest. At the elephant’s molar we left Salubrious and began to climb back up towards the corkscrew. At the top of the climb we sat down for some chocolate rations. We decided that a good stroll up and down Gnome passage was in order, so we had a leisurely amble down there. On our way, we bumped into some very shady looking characters: Grimmett, Clark, Paul M and James.

No beginners trip to top entrance would be complete without flailing around in a muddy puddle in the hope of admiring something pretty. Therefore, the last order of the trip had to be the mini columns. Everyone had a brilliant time sloshing around in the mud; seeing the formations was definitely worth the effort! 

Cat and Natalie admire the mini columns. Photo: Claire Vivian

Chloe, Natalie, Cat and Claire. Photo: Claire Vivian

Natalie taking to caving like a duck to water. Photo: Claire Vivian

Wearily, we began to head out of the cave. We joined a queue of Cardiff freshers waiting to exit the cave: it was like Everest but underground. Exit time: 15:30 (ish). Time underground: 4 hours (ish). 

Trip Report 2
Trip: OFD top entrance
Time: 3 hours

On the Saturday morning we kitted up a bunch of ladies who had never tried caving before and took them underground to show them around OFD. 

Our group started with a bit of traversing to get comfortable. We then went past the Wedding Cake and down the corkscrew. Along the way, we stopped to marvel at Trident and Judge and had a wander around Swamp Creek. Once we got to Selenite Tunnel there were plenty of fossils and smaller formations to look at so we spent quite a bit of time there. Our next stop was the crystal pool followed by a Frozen River which was our turning back point. Along the way we introduced Sarah to squeezing underneath the boulders, traversing, climbing boulder choke and bridging. On the way back we found a fossils happy face near Maypole Inlet and finished it all of with a look at the Aven before navigating our way back out.

Photos by Sanita Lustika